I'm sure you've been curious about part two of "the church that fumbled." What was the other fumble? Well, before I reveal that, let me once again say that all churches fumble at one time or another. We've definitely fumbled. Sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control that cause us to stumble and sometimes there are things that could have been completely avoided with a little planning, communication and/or forthought. I still love the church that fumbled. I'm still for them.
Ok, disclaimers aside, what was the fumble?
Here's how it unfolded. If you read part one of this post, you know that we entered the church at the "wrong" entrance. As we came into the building we were greeted with cheery "good mornings" but no one seemed to realize that we had never been there before. We had to tell them, and they seemed surprised. (That's kind of weird, isn't it?)
We had our 3 kids with us, and our friends had their 4 year old daughter with them. It was about time for the service to begin, so our friends wanted to take their daughter with them.
This church has a basic policy that encourages parents to not bring children under the age of 5 into the service with them. They have a great kids' ministry and they would like to make the service "interruption free" for the adults that are there. The worship guide strongly encourages children under 5 to be in the children's area, (after all, they'd be much happier there) but says that if parents still feel the need to bring their children with them, that a friendly usher will assist them with seating.
So far so good. I basically agree with this policy. Maybe have times when the family all worships together, but generally help make the experience better for everyone on most weekends. Alright. Now here's where it got strange.
- First "encouragement" to take the kiddo to the kid's area - When we talked with the greeter.
- Second "encouragement" to take the kiddo to the kid's area - As we entered the auditorium.
- Usher wasn't as "friendly" as the worship guide led us to believe...
- Our friends were "ushered" behind a roped off area.
- While they were sitting there, they could hear the ushers talking about how to get them out of there.
- Another usher then approached them and asked them again about sending their kiddo to the kid's area.
- Our friends were really starting to feel conspicous, alienated and a bit embarrassed at this point.
- They finally gave in and followed the usher to the kid's area. (Ok, ok, we get it already...)
- When they got to the kid's area, their kiddo began crying and really didn't want to go in.
- Our friends asked if they could accompany her in and help her get adjusted to the environment, and were told that they could not enter the children's area. (disclaimer number two - I fully understand the policy of this. I also know that it is much easier most of the time for parents with crying children to just leave them with the workers. The kids usually adjust quickly and are fine)
- The kid's worker then made this comment, "If you want my opinon, I would..."
- No explanation was given to my friends about why they couldn't enter the kid's area. They reluctantly decided to leave their kiddo crying and then they headed back to the auditorium.
- On the way there, several people noticed the mom upset, and said things to them like, "Oh, she'll be fine. Don't worry. She'll adjust quickly." This, of course, singled them out even more and made them feel like the center of attention again.
- They then had to re-enter the auditorium late, and missed part of the service. The mom had a difficult time focusing on the sermon because of the hassle with the kid's area nazis.
- Following the service, they picked up their kiddo (who was fine), and were told, "See, we told you she'd be fine..."
- Then they were followed and stopped by one of the original usher dudes, with more of the "see, that wasn't so bad, wasn't it? She did fine, didn't she?" comments.
- At this point, my friends just wanted to grab their kid and get the fat out of there.
- The final comment to my friends was, "I hope you'll be back." (My thought: Oh yeah, we forgot. It's all about you.)
- The pastor's message was about how the church should be attractive and inviting to everyone.
- Insert joke here.
So there it is. We didn't really have a problem with the policy. Even my friends, who are fellow church planters, didn't really have a problem with the policy. It was all in the implentation of the policy and the missing of the heart of the policy.
A little explanation would have helped the way my friends felt. Letting them have a glimpse of the kid's area accompanied by a children's leader, explaining the importance of them leaving quickly would have been nice. Even without letting them in, they could have explained a little more so that we wouldn't think that cult rituals were taking place behind the wall or something. Ok, we didn't think that, but we do have other friends that would have thought that.
And if you print that a "friendy" usher will help you with seating, be sure that your usher is really friendly and sympathetic to the concerns of parents with small kids. Make sure they know that it is one thing to "encourage and help understand" and another thing to "make sure the policy is enforced." It would also help if the ushers didn't talk about their "guests" within earshot and that the children's ministry volunteers didn't come across in a condescending way.
I know how hard it is to keep from fumbling in our churches, so I hate to be too critical. (That's why I haven't told you the name of the church). But here's the stand out comment from my friends:
"If we weren't already Christians, we would not have even stayed for the service."
Fumble number two. The ball is now going in the opposite direction...